Message Received?

In a movie review, Jeremy Jahns, a YouTube reviewer I usually watch, talked about social commentary in movies based on fictional stories in a way that I found very thought provoking. While he mentioned a specific film, what he said could apply to many films and other types of stories. Of course reviews are subjective, so take that with a grain of salt. Anyway, he said,

A picture is worth a thousand words. But this . . . movie would rather use a thousand words to paint a picture.

In other words, he felt the social commentary was too obvious and heavy handed and would have been better had it been more subtle and the story and characters better developed. I have heard statements like this about a number of movies. Though I didn’t see the movie he reviewed, Jahns’s statement got me to thinking about the messages I’ve noticed in some fiction books or on the screen in the last ten years or so. Obviously this is my opinion which you can take with a grain of salt, but sometimes the messages have seemed a little too obvious, with characters practically saying things like, “And that’s why _____ (fill in the blank) is bad.” Sometimes the whole reason for the existence of a book or film (again please keep in mind that I am talking about fiction, rather than nonfiction) seems to be to deliver a message.

I totally get the need to encourage change through a well-written story. That is the power of words. But I’m drawn to stories where the message doesn’t rest on top in a blinking lights kind of way. I like to glean the message for myself. I can read the Lord of the Rings trilogy and see the awful toll war takes on people, something Tolkien experienced firsthand, without having to be told by a character, “Do you see what disagreements like this could lead to? How awful everything is? How needful it is that we come together in peace and goodwill?”

What about you? Do you like messages that are a

and as obvious as this:

Or do you prefer the subtle approach? Are there some messages that need to be wrecking ball clear? Do tell! While you ponder that, Anne Westrick, get ready to receive a signed copy of Edie in Between by Laura Sibson! Please comment below to confirm.


Jeremy Jahns photo from famousbirthdays. Quote from August 27, 2021 review. Stupidly obvious messages from dreamstime and ebaumsworld.

29 thoughts on “Message Received?

  1. I haven’t seen that review yet. So, my mind is considering every movie that came out. It feels like bluntness and repeatedly battering the audience with the message are the new trends. I prefer subtlety with an occasional clear, simple declaration that doesn’t take from the story. This way you get your message across without sacrificing the other aspects of the story. I keep thinking about how X-Men was clearly about civil rights and accepting people who were different, but the message never drowned out the superhero action that kept the audience. Guess people don’t give others enough credit to get a message unless it’s plastered all over the place.

    • Great points! The X-Men series is a great example. I also think about the Star Trek franchise.
      You’re right. The trends are to hammer the message. Sometimes that works. But most times, in my life at least, that doesn’t work.

      • I think the hammering does more harm than good. In fact, some movies seem designed to be so blunt and divisive that it’s part of the marketing. Create enough of a media stir to become a symbol instead of just a story.

      • It’s sad that this strategy seems so pervasive. In she short term it gets results. But, as you said, it does more harm than good long term.

      • Yeah. It’s a strategy that tends to make me avoid a movie or show. I might go check it out once the dust settles and the mobs have moved to another target, but it always leaves a bad taste in my mouth. The art is almost secondary in these instances.

  2. I don’t like blatant messages that feel like a blow to the head . . . but I also dislike repeated prolonged camera images that settle and stay on someone’s face and leave it to the audience to attempt to discern the character’s thought process through the process of osmosis and/or ESP.

    I’m like Goldilocks ~ not too hard, not too soft, not too hot, not too cold ~> AAH, that’s just right!

  3. That headline about guns in the gun shop is hilarious.

    Fiction writers walk a fine line. I guess it’s not only whether you give the reader too much or too little information. It’s also about what kind of information you give him. As a reader, I want enough information so I can understand the characters and their motives and actions.I don’t want to be told exactly what it all means. I want to figure some of that out for myself.

  4. Yes, to all these comments! Don’t tell me how to feel or think. I want to decide for myself. Yes, there will always be literary analysis. That’s another discussion. But the story itself, if it is truly honest, will leave questions, not provide answers, for the reader.

  5. The same criticism harps been levelled at the new writer of Doctor Who, how the ‘PC’ and ‘woke’ messages are being hammered home and lecturing.

    • Andy, I guess I’m not surprised. I’ve been hearing a lot of complaints lately. I dropped cable, so I no longer have the BBC. So I only see Doctor Who when I purchase the DVDs through Amazon. I haven’t bought a season since the Matt Smith era, though I saw Peter Capaldi’s run.

  6. The subtle, nuanced approach in writing appeals to me. My editors suggested I include a “takeaway” at the end of the chapters, but I resisted announcing my theme(s). I wrote my memoir to show readers my pathway toward forgiveness, not specifically to “deliver a message.” Readers usually resist a didactic tone.

    This is a great topic, L. Marie. Thanks for handling it with care. 😀

    • I’m glad you avoid the takeaway approach, Marian. Your instinct was spot on! And you’re right. Readers know when an obvious message is flashing their way. Many duck and cover.

  7. Congratulations on winning EDIE IN BETWEEN, Anne! As far message books and movies, I’m attracted to the ones that raise questions and let the reader decide. I’ve had protagonists who disagree with my own political views on certain issues and books where they made different choices despite having similar desires under similar circumstances. I suppose that’s what happens when the story is character-driven rather than theme-driven.

  8. I prefer, Linda, the novels allowing to the reader to extract oneself the message that support the story . This message may ne different according the reader despite of the intentions of the writer ! 🙂
    Love ❤

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